ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Hanns Jones' life was in shambles. The love of his life had kicked him out, his work as an inventor stirred little interest and a lifelong search for his father had turned up empty.
Alone and hopeless, he drove to the center span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and jumped 200 feet--the equivalent of a 20-story building--into the choppy waters of Tampa Bay.
Jones felt the rush of the air. He can still visualize the descent. But before he hit the water, he changed his mind.
"As I got closer to the bottom," he said, "I had the feeling this was a bad idea."
The image of his 18-month-old son, Braner, flashed before him. Suddenly, life was precious. Jones wanted to live. He wanted his son to grow up knowing his father.
Jones slammed into the water feet first and lost consciousness. The impact stripped the clothes from his body. When he came to, he felt his hand move.
"I could feel myself swimming. I saw rocks and I started thinking about my son. It was like he was there in front of me. There was no way I was not going to make it.
"I was hurting real bad--broken ribs both sides, a broken neck, a burst spleen and a collapsed lung. But I made it. I swam nearly half the length of a football field. I don't know how. It was absolutely a miracle."
Paramedics found the 36-year-old Jones naked and clinging to a bridge piling.
"It's unbelievable the man survived," said Jim Cunningham, one of the paramedics who responded.
Jones' plunge resulted in an unlikely second chance, leading him on a journey that helped him find his father and made him realize how much he wanted to be a father himself to his four children.
Jones was born in Mineral Wells, Texas, and was reared alone by his mother. He never knew his father, and hit dead-ends when he tried to look for him.
"I had gotten to the point where I thought my father was deceased," he said. "It was very troubling to me, a great stress in my life."
During his two-week hospital stay, a woman who finds missing people read about Jones' May 30 bridge jump. In just six days, she found his father.
The two plan to meet in September after Jones sheds his head and neck brace and finishes recuperating at his sister's home outside Neosho, Mo.
Jones' father was "amazed and speechless" to learn his son was looking for him, said Lynn-Marie Carty of an organization called Reunite People. She tracked him down out West using the Internet, a network of contacts and a maze of Army files.
"Her finding my dad was more improbable than my surviving a jump off that bridge," said Jones, who won't disclose his father's name or say where he is living.
"I don't know my father, but I know I love him," he said.
During his teenage years Jones went out on his own, served in the Army Reserve and began working odd jobs to give him time to work on his inventions. One of them was Sock Locker, a device that keeps socks together in the wash.
At the time of the jump, Jones was financially devastated and had just broken up with the girlfriend who had given birth to one of his children.
Cunningham, whose marine rescue team is responsible for the Skyway, said authorities get about 12 to 15 calls a year about a person jumping from the bridge. In his 17 years on the job, only five or six have lived.
"You always go out with it in your head you're going to save someone, but the odds are so stacked against you," Cunningham said. "This man was given a second chance; no doubt about it."
No one is more aware of that than Jones, whose three sons and a daughter range in age from little Braner to 14.
"I hurt a lot of people when I went off that bridge," he said. "It changed everything. I don't know how to explain it. I want to be here to help my children. I know nothing's going to bring me down now. My whole life I never felt that.
"To walk away from this, well, I'm supposed to be here."